Cards stray from script, ruin Marlins' big night
'Birds begin World Series defense with convincing win in Miami
MIAMI -- A not-so-funny thing happened to the Marlins en route to the glorious opening of their new baseball palace: They might have overlooked the fact they were playing the defending World Series-champion Cardinals.
They weren't supposed to lose, not the very first game in the splendid Marlins Park.
St. Louis, behind the masterful pitching of Kyle Lohse, ruined one of the most anticipated moments in Marlins history Wednesday night with a convincing and unexpected 4-1 victory. The Cards cannot play much better.
This certainly wasn't the way Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and all the others who've waited years for the baseball-only stadium to become reality envisioned this night.
Oh, Marlins Park was magnificent for its coming-out party. The sellout crowd of 36,601 was primed for the occasion and enjoyed all the trappings of the futuristic venue. The retractable roof was open, a full moon hovered over the structure and the weather was perfect.
But the Marlins flopped in their opener, leaving the giddy paying customers with an empty feeling and not the memories they wished for.
Manager Ozzie Guillen vehemently disagrees, but maybe his recast team got caught up in all the hoopla and the enormous buildup for the first game in this $643 million park. Maybe it was the undertow.
The suave Cardinals picked up where they left off in October, when the defeated the Texas Rangers to win the World Series.
And they did it without Albert Pujols, who defected to the Los Angeles Angels, with Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa retired, and Chris Carpenter, the ace of their rotation, on the shelf with an injury.
The tipoff might have come in the first inning, when Lohse didn't even work up a sweat as he retired the first three Marlins in order. He retired the first 10 he faced before hitting Emilio Bonifacio with a pitch in the fourth inning. A double play wiped out Bonifacio.
When Jose Reyes singled to right field -- Miami's first hit -- to open the seventh inning, Lohse had faced the regulation 18 batters. Overall, he allowed just two singles and one run, giving way to the bullpen with one out in the eighth.
"Coming back after going to the World Series -- this didn't compare to that, but it was pretty fun," said Lohse. "It felt great to get this first game out of the way."
Cards rookie manager Mike Matheny said Lohse "was fantastic. Getting runs scored early for him was important."
By the seventh inning, the buzz of a no-hitter was making the rounds.
Especially in the Cardinals' dugout.
"I looked up and saw a lot of zeroes [on the scoreboard]," said Lohse. "I realized the only time I had worked out of the stretch was after I hit Bonifacio. I'm not hugely superstitious. I was even talking to guys on the bench. They might have been trying to avoid me, but I wasn't going to let them."
Third baseman David Freese, Most Valuable Player of both the World Series and National League Championship Series a year ago, vaulted the Cards ahead, 2-0, with a booming single to left-center off Marlins starter Josh Johnson.
"He has that knack to get the big hit in a big situation," said Matheny. "He didn't feel quite right going into today. He was fighting some things, but before the game, had a good [batting practice] session with [coaches] Mark McGwire and John Mabry, and it carried over into the game."
Matheny, with his first managerial victory, tried to downplay how important it was to rain on Miami's parade.
"It was exciting," he said. "It's quite an event they put together out there. The energy is something I've never seen before in Miami. It's nice to see they've got some very positive things here to build on.
"It all comes down to playing the game, but in general, they've made some good moves organizationally to put them in a good spot to move forward. They have a good team. Our guys just came out and played well, got it going early and had some momentum."
Matheny heard the Marlins were planning to close the roof, but because it was such a delightful night, it remained open.
"I think the beautiful night added to the atmosphere, but the ball wasn't carrying," said Matheny. "[Miami right fielder Giancarlo Stanton] hit a couple of balls that are out in almost every park in baseball."
But with the roof open, they were just long flies. And that deprived the fans of one of the main attractions of the new park.
Just like Miami's bats, the highly publicized home run sculpture in center field remained dormant.
Heck, the water in the fish tanks behind home plate was even calm.
The 73-foot structure in center field that comes to life with every Marlins home run will remain silent until at least April 13, when Miami next plays in its new home.
By then, the hoopla of Wednesday night's nationally televised opener will be gone.
The game on the field will be the main attraction, and the Marlins, with eyes wide open, will be playing the Houston Astros, who are not exactly the defending World Series champions.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.